2015 Auditions Guide: Ramp-up to Audition Season
Tips for tweaking your aerobic and strength-training workouts
After spending her first professional years with Royal New Zealand Ballet, North Carolina native Sara Havener was longing to dance closer to home. She moved back and sent resumés to as many American ballet companies as possible. Havener believes her consistent cross-training was key in helping her nail a three-day audition with Atlanta Ballet, where she is enjoying her debut season. “Swimming intervals helped my stamina,” she says, and Pilates mat work kept her core strong.
Auditioning in peak condition shows directors your strength and provides the confidence to attack any movement thrown your way. “You never know how vigorous auditions will be, so being as fit as possible prepares you for anything,” says Megan Richardson, clinical specialist at the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries at New York University’s Langone Medical Center. Here are strategic cross-training guidelines for four to six weeks prior to audition season.
Especially for dancers who don’t regularly cross-train, integrating cardio workouts four to six weeks before auditions may be the boost you need to get noticed. Technique class requires only short bursts of activity, so additional training is needed to improve endurance for full-out contemporary choreography or longer classical variations. This means not getting as winded during long jump sequences and a more speedy recovery between combinations. “If your body is able to recover quickly, your mind is in the moment rather than catching up,” says Richardson.
As a baseline, Julie O’Connell, director of performing arts medicine for Athletico Physical Therapy in Chicago, recommends dancers do cardio for 20 to 30 minutes, three times a week. But if cardio is a new addition, Richardson says, two days at 15 to 20 minutes is a safe starting point, adding five-minute increments as stamina increases.
Interval training is even more beneficial than steady paces since high/low-intensity intervals more closely mimic the varied aerobic demands of an audition. Choose a workout—elliptical, treadmill, biking, swimming, stair climber—that works for you. Warm up for two to three minutes at low/moderate intensity, then ramp up to moderate/high intensity for four minutes, then recover for two to three minutes moderately. Cycle back and forth between four minutes high intensity and two minutes recovery for 20 to 30 minutes.
Strength in Variety
Auditions are notorious for switching physical gears quickly. Identifying weak or imbalanced areas can help you plan goal-oriented strength workouts. For example, ballet dancers might usually avoid upper-extremity strength-training, but most classical companies are diversifying their repertoires with contemporary work. Audition preparation should include buildingupper-body power to tackle floor work and extreme partnering.
O’Connell suggests yoga because of the upper-body strength required to hold postures, the focus on parallel alignment and the active way it works flexibility. Both Pilates and Gyrotonic are great for strengthening the transverse abdominus and build placement on a solid foundation. If your goal is to truly get stronger and connect to your core in four to six weeks, work deeply within simpler exercises and tap into weaker muscles rather than relying on the ones that are already strong.
Richardson suggests a variety of techniques for improved strength. “If a body does the same thing every day, it stops adapting. We get faster responses by changing up routines,” she explains.
Circuit training with weights, Thera-Bands, gym machines and your own body weight is an effective way to incorporate cardio into strength training. At a minimum, shoot for strength-focused sessions two days a week.
During the final two weeks before auditions start, cross-training should wind down. Scale back to zero to two cardio workouts at a steady pace rather than intervals, and take a restorative yoga or beginner Pilates class. Easing up on intensity levels and cutting back on sessions help muscles reach optimal recovery and maximize your energy level for auditions.
Keep in Mind
Beware of letting your cross-training become overly time-consuming or draining. “Every workout done outside of dance is preparation for becoming a better dancer,” say Athletico Physical Therapy’s Julie O’Connell. To avoid overtraining, take one day a week off for rejuvenation. “Get a massage, soak in a hot tub, foam-roll and rest,” she says. The muscles (and the mind) need the time to repair and restore to a stronger state.
Megan Richardson, from the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries, recommends this workout to increase your strength and get your heart pumping. Warm up for three to five minutes, then repeat the circuit three times, followed by your choice of abdominal exercises for 5 to 10 minutes.
1. Burpees: Jump up and reach arms to the ceiling. Squat down and jump or step feet into a plank. Hold or do a push-up. Reverse the sequence and repeat 10 times, building up to 20.
2. Lunges with arm work: Hold one dumbbell (between 3 and 10 pounds) in each hand. Step right foot forward and lunge down, bending both knees. As you lower, raise arms to a T, elbows slightly bent. Straighten legs, lower arms and repeat 5 to 10 times on the right, then the left.
3. Planks: Hold for 30 seconds, working up to one minute. Begin with an elbow plank, elbows on the floor directly under shoulders. Add a side-plank variation (facing one direction on one elbow only) and repeat on the other side.
Before too long, dancers and choreographers will get to create on the luxurious 170-acre property in rural Connecticut that is currently home to legendary visual artist Jasper Johns.
If you think that sounds far more glamorous than your average choreographic retreat, you're right. Though there are some seriously generous opportunities out there, this one seems particularly lavish.
Every dancer has learned—probably the hard way—that healthy feet are the foundation of a productive and happy day in the studio. As dancers, our most important asset has to carry the weight (literally) of everything we do. So it's not surprising that most professional dancers have foot care down to an art.
Three dancers shared their foot-care products they can't live without.
Dancers trying their hand at designing is nothing new. But they do tend to stick with studio or performance-wear (think Miami City Ballet's Ella Titus and her line of knit warm-ups or former NYCB dancer Janie Taylor and her ballet costumes). But several dancers at American Ballet Theatre—corps members Jamie Kopit, Erica Lall, Katie Boren, Katie Williams, Lauren Post, Zhong-Jing Fang and soloist Cassandra Trenary—are about to launch a fashion line that's built around designs that can be worn outside of the studio. Titled Company Cooperative, the luxe line of women's wear is handmade in New York City's garment district and designed by the dancers themselves.
Royal Ballet dancers Yasmine Naghdi and Beatriz Stix-Brunell recently got together for a different kind of performance: no decadent costumes, sets, stage makeup or lighting. Instead, the principal and first soloist danced choreography by principal character artist Kristen McNally in a stark studio.
The movement is crystal clear, and at the beginning, Naghdi and Stix-Brunell duck and weave around each other with near vacant stares. Do they even know they have a partner? And how should they interact? The situation raises a much larger question: How often do we see a female duet in ballet?
As a student, Milwaukee native John Neumeier appeared in an opera at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. As Hamburg Ballet's artistic director and one of the world's leading choreographers, Neumeier now returns to the Midwest to direct and choreograph a new version of Gluck's Orphée et Eurydice, a co-production of the Lyric Opera, LA Opera and Hamburg State Opera. Set to open in Chicago September 23 with the Joffrey Ballet, the ambitious work will see additional engagements in Los Angeles and Hamburg over the next two years.
How did you come to be involved with this collaboration?
It was initiated by the director of the Lyric Opera, Anthony Freud, but I had already been in contact with Ashley Wheater about a separate project with the Joffrey Ballet. The two things came together—and this was really interesting to me because Chicago was important at the start of my career. I was born in Milwaukee, but most of my training was in or near Chicago.
You've previously created version of Orpheus for Hamburg Ballet. What about this particular production caught your interest?
When I got this offer from Anthony, I just went back to the piece and tried to sense what it meant to me now. Gluck's Orphée was part of a push to reform opera and to make a complete work of art involving music, text and dance. What interests me—particularly in this French version we are doing—is that dance plays such an essential role. When Agnes de Mille choreographed Oklahoma!, it was considered a revolution in musical theater, because dance moved the plot along. In Orphée, we can see that the same idea had been realized several centuries ago: that dance would not be just a divertissement, but a theatrical element, literally "moving" the plot along and expressing in another form the emotion of each situation.
Another idea in Orphée which fascinates me is its directness in projecting profound human emotions—emotions not used as an excuse for vocal virtuosity, but expressed in simple and direct musical terms. In Orphée, we have a mythical subject which is related in an extremely relevant, familiar, human way.
What happens when drones become part of the dance? For Margaret Jenkins Dance Company's latest work, Skies Calling Skies Falling, video artists David and Hi-Jin Hudge used a drone hovering 200 to 400 feet above the ground to film the dancers performing in an industrial granary. The resulting footage will be projected onto the floor and walls of the Taube Atrium Theater, creating a dystopian backdrop to the live performance.
Alex Carrington of MJDC, Photo by RJ Muna
It's been 34 years since Sir Kenneth MacMillan's Mayerling touched down on American soil, when The Royal Ballet first performed the great English master's tour de force ballet stateside. On September 22–24, Houston Ballet becomes the first North American company to perform MacMillan's epic chronicle of the murder-suicide of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Crown Prince Rudolf, and his 17-year-old mistress, Baroness Mary Vetsera. Chronicling the last chapter of the Hapsburg Empire, the ballet is known for its true-to-life realism, and for the role of Rudolf, which transformed the way male ballet dancers drive a story. It's considered a dream role for a male dancer. And with seven pas de deux with five different women, a deadly difficult one at that.
Driving Houston Ballet's Mayerling train is principal Connor Walsh, who nearly missed this opportunity to dance the part when Hurricane Harvey flooded Houston Ballet's theatrical home, Wortham Center. Now moved to the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts and back in rehearsal, Walsh took a break from his busy schedule to talk about the role of a lifetime.
Have you ever felt like your relationship to dance is something of an addiction? Not to worry, that's completely normal—it's simply the way our brains are wired.
This week, The Washington Post published an intriguing feature that looks at the science of what actually goes on upstairs when we're watching a live performance. The insight comes from the emerging field of neuroaesthetics, which uses tools like brain imaging to study the relationship between art and the brain.
Here are some of the most fascinating takeaways: